Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Iconem

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Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections. Today’s blog post features Iconem‘s amazing work to preserve the knowledge of threatened heritage using digital advances.

3D digitalisation: an invaluable tool to preserve Syrian heritage

This 4th of April, the 3D model of one of the largest fortresses in the Middle-East, the “Krak des Chevaliers”, was released on Sketchfab. This exclusive content will enrich the biggest ever 3D database dedicated to Syrian archaeological sites: the “Syrian Heritage” Project.

This initiative, launched in March 2015 by French startup Iconem in partnership with the DGAM (Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities & Museums), aims to generate ‘‘digital twins’’ of threatened archaeological sites. Thanks to these 3D models, famous archaeological areas will now be accessible to a wide public. If they were to be destroyed, this digitalisation would also keep their memory. It might even make a reconstruction possible.

Iconem, which already partnered with the DGAM on previous projects, travelled to Damascus in December 2015 to provide resources and technical training to field teams. This technological transfer provided Syrian archaeologists with a new solution for documenting the endangered sites.

Once processed, the scanned sites’ data will be published on both Iconem and DGAM websites. The public will then be able to discover these endangered areas through interactive virtual visits, Computer Generated videos, scientific images (sections, elevations etc.). Three of the archaeological sites are already published: the Umeyyad Mosque, the ancient city of Ugarit and the Jableh Theatre. The entire collection will be available in late May.

Coming soon, the Krak des Chevaliers is one of Syrian heritage’s most valuable jewels. Located in the Homs area, at the top of a steep hill, the Krak des Chevaliers overhangs the road connecting Damascus to Homs and to the Mediterranean Sea. It is a military strategic location. Built in 1031 by crusaders, it was occupied during the XII and XIII centuries by the Order of Saint John, a religious-military order. Today, the Krak des Chevaliers is inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO. The citadel was in an excellent state of preservation before the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. The exterior façades and a large part of the citadel remain intact. However, the low courtyard suffered many destructions. Formerly considered as a invaluable touristic place, it has temporarily regained its first nature: that of a military fortress.

The citadel’s future remains uncertain, but its digital preservation is now secured by the 3D model made by Iconem and the DGAM. The technology used is based on “photogrammetry” a system involving an enormous number of photographs processed by algorithms. The later were developed by Iconem in partnership with scientific institutions such as INRIA and ENS. Photogrammetric algorithms analyze thousands of images taken and exploit the similarities between the pictures to reconstruct a ‘‘point cloud’’; in other words, a 3D version of the archaeological artefact.

With this field mission, 3D scanning proves to be an invaluable tool to preserve archaeological sites and keep their memory alive for future generations.

Thanks for sharing, Iconem !

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About the author

Nicolas Guinebretière

Cultural heritage enthusiast


  • Ebrahim DALILEH says:

    C’est super ce que vous avez fait en Syrie,
    je suis syrien et je suis très intéressé à ce travail. C’est vraiment génial d’avoir nos sites archéologique syriennes documenté par l’Iconem. surtout Ougarit.

  • Nicolas says:

    Oui il est très intéressant d’avoir un modèle d’Ougarit sur Sketchfab, bien moins médiatisé mais pas moins important dans l’Histoire et donc le patrimoine mondial !

    Vous avez probablement entendu parler de Rekrei (Project Mosul) qui digitalise également le patrimoine mondial, Syrien en particulier. L’arche de Palmyra reconstruite a Londres est également disponible sur Sketchfab:

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